Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How To Learn From A Guru: A Story of Sri Ramana Maharshi and Kunju Swami (Revised Post)


In Pirke Avot, the classic work on Jewish ethics and Avoda (spiritual practice), it is said:

 (בן זומא אומר, איזה הוא חכם--הלמד מכל אדם, שנאמר "מכל מלמדיי, השכלתי" (תהילים קיט,צט

"Who is wise? One who learns from every person, as it says, "From all my teachers I grew in discernment. (Psalms)".

The interesting thing about this quote is the active tense in the quote from King David in Psalms- from all my teachers I grew in discernment, not "all my teachers taught me something". This points to the fact that it is ultimately our responsibility to learn from all of our teachers, even bad ones. If that is true, how much more is it our responsibility to maximize our learning from good ones! The following story illustrates an excellent student, a true chacham (wise one), Kunju Swami:

At the end of the meal everyone left except Sri Bhagavan (Ramana Maharshi) and me. Sri Bhagavan, who had not spoken to me until then, took some flour from a small tin, put it in a pot, poured some water from his kamandalu ( a water pot made from a coconut shell) over it, and mixed it with a spoon and the  heated the mixture on the charcoal stove that was kept there to heat the rooms. Thinking that Sri Bhagavan was preparing some kaya kalpa (magical concoction), I sat quietly, hoping to get some myself. After the contacts had turned into a paste, Sri Bhagavan took the vessel off the stove and poured a portion of it onto a plate. Then he got up and lifted an upturned basket. Four puppies rushed out and raced towards the gruel on the plate. Thinking that it might be too hot for them, Sri Bhagavan tried to ward them off but was unable to do so.

Sri Bhagavan, who had not spoken to me til then, called out, "Catch hold of the four!"
I immediately caught hold of them. Then, after the gruel had cooled down a little, Sri Bhagavan said, :Let them go one by one."

As I had resolved to take Sri Bhagavan's first words to me as an upadesa (instruction-ed.), I took the first command to mean "Catch hold of the four mahavakyas" (great teachings of the Upanishads-ed.)
Releasing the pups one by one I took the second command to mean, "Give up desires and attachments one by one."

The puppies had their fill and wandered off to play. A few minutes later one of them urinated. Sri Bhagavan got up immediately, poured some water from his kamandalu and cleaned up the mess with an old gunny bag. I felt a strong urge to do this work myself, but since I felt that it was not proper on my part to do so without being asked, I just sat quietly, feeling slightly apprehensive. As Sri Bhagavan came back to sit down another puppy urinated. Sri Bhagavan saw that I was getting restless and asked me to clean up the mess by saying the single word "wipe". I got up and cleaned the spot with water.

"Wipe the mind and keep it clean." I felt that this was the third upadesa.

-From Godman, David. The Power of The Presence, Vol.2


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